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Devra Torres

Coming Out Celibate

Aug. 23 at 9:36pm

My brother, Joseph Prever,

(known and admired by many under the pseudonym Steve Gershom),

is a faithful Catholic who came out publicly as a celibate gay man the other day.  (He says he got more flak for coming out as celibate.)

He'd told me and a few other relatives and friends a while ago, which prompted me to think very hard about things I'd scarcely ever considered at all.  My thoughts about the entire subject before it touched me personally amounted to "Objective disorder!" and "Love the sinner, hate the sin!"  I haven't changed my mind about either one; but it turns out there's a lot more to say.  What follow are just the impressions of someone who's still working out what it all does and doesn't mean.

Here are five things that occurred to me:

1. He hadn't always secretly been someone else.

When he first told me and a few other relatives and friends, I was startled that I wasn't more shocked.  It wasn't as if I'd always suspected something: the news took me completely by surprise.  But here was my little brother (my six-foot-plus little brother), whom I'd known and loved for many, many years, and it turned out he'd been struggling with something I'd been completely oblivious to.  That was what struck me most.

In other words, he hadn't suddenly revealed himself as an imposter, through and through.  He'd always been my brother, and that's who he still was.  

Maybe this is the kind of thing the American Bishops had in mind when they put out "Always Our Children" in 1997, addressing parents whose children had revealed a homosexual inclination.  At the time I took the title to be evidence of mushy-minded moral indifferentism--an attempt to turn the reader's attention away from the objective disorder and towards their own irrational parental affections.  Of course they're still their children, I thought--did the bishops really think the tiny fraction of parents dedicated enough to read through an episcopal document

were going to cast their offspring cruelly aside?  Now maybe I see what they were getting at.  He always was and always will be my brother.

2. He doesn't belong to a third gender.  

A man with same-sex attraction is a man, not something else.  Some people talk as if he's a separate gender altogether.  This can make lots of wholly unnecessary trouble for the person in question and eveyone who knows him.

3. He's not a mascot.  

This is something that disturbs me: women will sometimes condescend, maybe well-meaningly, to a gay man, feeling free to giggle with him, confide in him, or treat him as a sort of pet

--as if he doesn't really count as a man but is useful as a confidante, someone to vent at or play with. I can't believe this is good for anybody concerned.

4. He's not a walking disorder, any more than the rest of us are the various disordered passions that give us grief.

The same kind of conflation of person and condition (for want of a better word) crops up when someone says, "My son is A.D.H.D."

or "My friend is O.C.D."  If we object--as we should--to the activists who treat gayness is something uniquely wonderful that constitutes your very essence, then we should likewise reject the idea that it's something uniquely horrible that exhaustively describes you.

5. On the other hand, this is not a minor detail, like being left-handed or blue-eyed. 

As my brother points out, if you relate to both men and women in a way that's "a little bit different from what people expect," that's not a slight variation.  It's not just a matter of acting (or not) on an occasional tempatation at the moment it appears.  Of course tt's not the sole constitutive element of a person's identity, and it's one of the many disorders that can plague human beings, making life especially difficult in one way or another.  Who would presume to judge it a greater or lesser hardship than, say, infertility, or clinical depression? But it's something with profound spiritual and psychological effects, no mattter how you approach it.

Well, that's for starters.  I could go on.  But what do you think?


 

Rhett Segall

Devra:

Thank you for telling us about Joseph. It reminded me of Wesley Hill's autobiography Washed and Waiting Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality.For the first time I felt I understood the homosexual  angst.( Hill has a marvelous anecdote of dancing with a dazzilingly beautiful girl and feeling nothing. At the same time he is totally aware of this guy dancing with another girl!). Hill drew my attention to the agony of lonliness suffered by  Henri Nouwen. See  Wounded Prophet. Nouwen would return from giving an inspirational talk on God's love and, alone in his hotel room, weep and weep. He would call friends in the early hours of the morning seeking consolation.

I became aware of Hill's autobiography through reading "Does Jesus Really Love Me?" by Jeff Chu. Chu takes a different path than Hill, holding the position that God  welcomes responsible homosexual love.

A point on the term "disorder". In psychology it is used in reference to a disposition that a person would gladly do without, and can do something to change it,  e.g. "panic disorder". What many homosexuals are saying is that their orientation is not changeable and therefore it is not something to be ashamed of.

#1 - Aug. 25 at 12:03pm | quote

 

Katie van Schaijik

Devra, your point about discovering that someone you love has been struggling for a long time without your realizing it is one that I've thought about too in this context.  It makes me sad to think of how oblivious and insensitive I've been for practically all of my life.

That aspect of the new openness about same-sex attraction is good, I think. 

#2 - Aug. 25 at 1:37pm | quote

 

Katie van Schaijik

A point on the term "disorder". In psychology it is used in reference to a disposition that a person would gladly do without, and can do something to change it,  e.g. "panic disorder". What many homosexuals are saying is that their orientation is not changeable and therefore it is not something to be ashamed of.

I would dispute this definition. Same-sex attraction is objectively disordered, in the sense that it is out of alignment, so to speak, with the design of human sexuality. But I agree that inasmuch as it's not freely chosen and beyond our power to change, we needn't be ashamed of it, as if it were a sin.

 

#3 - Aug. 25 at 1:42pm | quote

 

Brigid Kowalczyk

Finding out someone is homosexual often explains a lot about the relationship and that person but it certainly isn't a reason to no longer associate with him.  I avoided contact with my ex-husband because he was not nice to me, not because he was gay. 

The kids and I always prayed for him and said "There is always hope until he is dead."  Well, he is dead now and we saw that relating to him as father and friend probably made a difference in his life and he died in the arms of the church even though he may not have ever repented of his disordered behaviors.  But that is for God to sort out not for us. 

Many factors lead up to a person "discovering" they are homosexual and God is just and merciful.  For many, it was a painful upbringing and perhaps culpability is diminished for some.  The cross they carry has the grace they need and we can always help them carry it.

#4 - Aug. 25 at 4:49pm | quote

 

Kate Whittaker Cousino

I've walked a good way over the last ten years with a good friend who is a chaste gay Catholic. I think we've both gained a lot of perspective from supporting each other through the various ups and downs of life. While each person's cross is unique in shape and weight, every life calls for a close walk with the cross sooner or later. 

#5 - Aug. 25 at 9:37pm | quote

Devra Torres

Rhett, thank you for all the references.  I've been wanting to read more Nouwen for a long time, since I first discovered him through the many references to his book about the Prodigal Son, quoted in Self-Esteem without Selfishness, by Esparza.  

Katie, yes, the "new openness" has a positive aspect.  I used to think the best thing was just to avoid the subject as much as possible but hadn't considered the effects of doing that on people who were secretly dealing with it.

The whole question of whether same-sex attraction is beyond anyone's power to change has been treated very simplistically at times--especially as far as what conclusions should be drawn from the answer.  Some have assumed that if change is impossible, that must mean it's morally fine to act on the attraction, and others have assumed that if someone finds change impossible, he's not trying hard enough, or not praying well enough.  Working things like this out in the context of the political circus going on now is a challenge, though!

#6 - Aug. 25 at 9:40pm | quote

Devra Torres

Brigid, thank you for adding your real-life insights.  Probably choosing to respond with prayer and without assuming culpability makes more of a difference than all the political machinations we can come up with--we just can't always see it.

Kate, yes, my brother talks about this, and one thing that's so refreshing about his writing his refusal to lose sight of how everyone else has a cross, too.  It's easier to have the necessary perspective if you have someone you can talk to about your own cross and don't feel like you're uniquely burdened with having to keep it a secret.

#7 - Aug. 25 at 9:47pm | quote

 

Katie van Schaijik

I'm re-reading a chapter of Newman's Apologia, because it has an insight I want to reference in a post on the member feed. I've just come across this line, which made me think of your post, Devra:

Flagrant evils cure themselves by being flagrant

It's another reason, I think, to be glad about the "new openness" regarding homosexuality.

Its former hiddenness maybe meant it was more marginal. But it also meant it could flourish in secret, and those who got caught up in it had nowhere to turn.

Now there are people like Joseph out there, shining like stars, pointing the way to safe harbor.

Also, it won't be long, I think, before the ugliness and viciousness of the "lifestyle" becomes too evident to sustain the pretense that it's the equivalent of marriage.

The fact that Joseph is getting more heat for his celibacy than for his tendency is an early sign.

#8 - Aug. 26 at 9:54am | quote

 

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